104 years young: Mount Angel resident says attitude counts for a lot

July 2018 Posted in Community
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Bernice Gruchalla Nancy Jennings

By Nancy Jennings

Bernice Gruchalla owns a hearing aid, but never uses it. “I’m saving it for later,” she said, smiling. She has no need for a cane, wheelchair or walker, either. The 104 1/2-year-old Mount Angel Towers resident wears a skirt every day, hardly misses a casino trip and recites poetry often at the Towers’ “Happy Hour.”

According to Betty Lou Wellman, who has lived there for four-and-a-half years, it didn’t take long for the vibrant centenarian to break the ice with residents when she joined them in February. “She came by my table and said, ‘I want you to know I’m 104 and three months.’” Bernice will turn 105 on Dec. 21.

Growing up with three sisters on a farm in North Dakota, she did more than her share of farm work. Those physically demanding chores made such an impact, it narrowed down her choices in a future mate. She knew exactly who she didn’t want: “I was not going to marry a farmer. George was a potato buyer in the Red River Valley when I married him. No more farming for me – he wore a suit,” she said.

At 24, she and George got married on May 10, 1938. They were married for 67 ½ years until his passing. They had five children, but lost one daughter, Gayle Eileen, as an infant.

Bernice has outlived two children, who were both Oregon State University graduates. “I lost our eldest son  (Gene) when he was 51, and another son (Phil) when he was 67.” Her daughter, Mary, lives in Arizona, and her son, Bob (“a Portland State graduate”), lives in nearby Mulino. She has 12 grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild, with another due in August.

Having witnessed so many decades of generations within her family, and having lived through so much technological advancement, which was her favorite?

“When we got a Model A with windows in it,” she answered without hesitation. “We had no electricity or running water and used outdoor toilets. We didn’t have any luxuries of city life,” she said. She remembers happily memorizing the Gettysburg Address in the fifth grade.

Those sharp recall skills still serve her – and her audience – well at their weekly social hour at the Towers. “I can recite a lot of poetry, but I wish I could remember names of people,” she admitted.

While on a casino bus trip two years ago, while playing blackjack, Bernice met the man sitting next to her. They talked for over an hour and found out they had more than a love of card games in common.

“Here, I found out I was related to the same people he was related to!” This revelation of family ties brought about a closer friendship – and car rides together.

“Now they come down and get me and we go to the casino,” she said. Is “lady luck” most often on her side? “I win enough so I could cover all my losses.” Her favorite slot machine game is “Jackpot Party.” When she isn’t having fun and socializing, Bernice greets every new day as a gift.

Rising at 6 a.m. each day, she attends Mass at 8 a.m. Her advice for a happy and long life is simple.

“I think attitude is very important. Some people are unhappy and dwell on their problems. You’ve got to accept the plans God gives us. A lot of people can’t.
They don’t have the faith,” she said.

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